Set Me Alight

Who fancies something on the dystopian side of thrillers… and no it’s not one of mine… introducing Set Me Alight by Bill Leviathan.



Paul is one tough bastard. Every day we’re up by sunrise, every night we’re up to nearly midnight. Three square meals a day, and absolutely, positively, no drinking. ‘Square meals’ might be a bit of an overstatement. I eat a bit of cornmeal sludge and some beans three times a day. Every now and then we throw in something green if we can find it. Well, mostly green, with a decent amount of yellow and brown. There’s even the rare occasion we get to eat some real meat. We just need to hope we find something dead on the side of the rode to do so. Certainly much better than before. Living with Paul has made me realize that I must have been getting around 75% of my daily calories from alcohol. Now I longer get to look forward to chugging some cheap whiskey that burns all the way down to my stomach as though I swallowed a lit acetylene torch. Three meager servings of over boiled cornmeal and mushy beans is what brings light to my days now. That’s what I keep telling myself any ways.

My life really has completely turned around since Paul took me in. I live in a house now. Well, as much as what you can call something a house these days. When I was a kid we would’ve called Paul’s home a ‘shack’, and a pretty run down one at that. There’s four wooden walls, a roof, and a floor that’s not made from dirt. It’s pretty sturdy, or at least sturdy enough for us to suspend two narrow hammocks. There isn’t enough space in the place for the two of us to live in and also have beds. All of the furniture folds up, which in total are two chairs and one small table. The only source of heat and ability to warm up our meals is a makeshift brazier. It looks like a 50 gallon steel drum that has been torn in half and then propped up on three pieces of scrap metal. Every time I have to reach in to grab the food it becomes a tetanus risk, avoiding cutting open my arms on some jagged rusty edge that’s sticking out. Between the brazier and the insulation blankets Paul has nailed to the wall, this place stays surprisingly warm, and a huge fire risk. I guess having a trained firefighter and a firefighter-in-training helps to mitigate that risk somewhat. We’re mostly through spring now, but I think this was the first winter where I was able to feel my toes at any point during it.

So far the training Paul has been giving me doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with actual firefighting, but then again, what the hell do I know? First step was quitting all my vices. No drinking, no smoking, no whoring, no being a dumb ‘down on my luck’ kid who blames the rest of the world for all of his problems. He hasn’t been all that successful at the last one, but I can’t fault Paul for trying. Everything else though has worked. I tried to convince Paul that if I’m going to working around smoke, I should toughen up my lungs by inhaling burning ash on a regular basis by letting me have a cigarette or two a day. He didn’t take too kindly to that. His ‘punishment’ for all of my grievances is a disappointed look on his face and silence for a day or two. I thought I was getting off easy at first. I’m used to the beatings with a cane I’d get at the youth shelters. It was only a week before a day’s long silence and the occasional cold, empty glare was enough to make me wish for the simplicity of physical punishment.

The rest of my training consists of reading some books and trying to entertain myself while Paul is at the office. There are no office jobs available at the moment, and certainly not enough work to warrant paying another person, so I’ll have to wait until fire season to get a real job with the forestry department. In the mean time I’ve been looking for ad-hoc work maybe once or twice a week to help contribute to the food costs for Paul and I. He can easily pay for it all with what he makes, but I don’t want to feel like too much of a mooch. Any ways, there’s only one book that Paul gave me that’s actually about how to fight fires. It’s a whole bunch of high level stuff that I don’t really understand. Different technologies used, like airplanes and helicopters, how to dig the trenches to create fire lines, and how to survive in extreme environmental conditions. It’s all great to read about, but I still won’t know what the hell to do if I was thrown out there today. It also mentions the teams firefighters would work in, called ‘hotshots’. There would typically be about 20 people to a team, with hundreds of teams positioned all across the US. According to Paul, it would be remarkable to have a team as large as 10 in this day and age, and there’s maybe 50 total spread around the country. The rest of the books are all memoirs of firefighters who I can only assume are long dead, or some out-doors fantasy crap like ‘Call of the Wild’ or ‘Hatchet’. Those have been by far the most enjoyable books to waste my time reading. I’m supposed to learn about ‘what it takes’, mentally and physically, to be a firefighter. From what I’ve read in these memoirs, the main thing I need to learn is to become accustomed to loss.


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